I’m in Seattle on business. And I am reminded that I hate air travel.
But there was an industry conference in Seattle that everyone in my department has gone to, except me. And as a 60-year-old employed person in a harsh world who needs to keep working, it behooved me to be a Team Player.
What my mostly-younger coworkers did not understand is that I last flew in the previous millennium. TSA checkpoints, variable pricing, print yer own boarding pass, showing up two hours early — all new to me. I’ve been guided through it all like doddering Uncle Boomer. We used to have travel agents for these things. I miss them.
On the other hand, I have a time-traveler’s viewpoint of the air travel process. You all have been herded through airport security checks for 15 years now, post-911. You’re used to it. But it’s all new to me. It most reminds me of boarding planes in Central America back in the ’90s:
Poorly paid officers brusquely enforcing incomprehensible rules, barking orders to keep the cattle moving through — you didn’t hear me say “banana republic.” I didn’t write it, either. Trust me. But it felt like it.
I don’t love the actual flying part, either — I have an overactive imagination. But I can do it. The much-maligned tiny seats weren’t really that bad. The crew did its job. The pilot landed well, even through turbulence.
Then, on the other end, there was the joy of discovering a new airport, walking half a mile to luggage pickup, walking another half mile to the shuttle, waiting in the bus half an hour because of some snafu. Confused and uncertain all the time.
Honestly, why do you people put up with this ordeal?.
Yes, I am slipping into crotchety-old-manhood. Sorry. But still — why? Rhumba and I traveled to Seattle in the 90s, and enjoyed it. We took the train, still the most civilized form of transport off the water.
Seattle was less glossy then, less noticeably hip, but a place of physical and man-made beauty nontheless. And the people were as laid back as small-town old-timers, and as friendly. We had to love it.
Seattle’s still Seattle in 2016 — but more. More buildings, more art, more hipness, more everything. The airport terminal had a huge exhibit of Seattle grunge band rock posters going on, mounted like fine art. (“Look, Pearl Jam!”)
There were irridescent accent tiles in the men’s room floor and abstract tile patterns on the wall. There were “green” notices everywhere about this or that eco-friendly practice that was going on around you. Outside, the taxicabs were mostly Prius hybrids.
Seattle wants you to know where you are as soon as you get off the plane. And yes, you’ll know. It’s March in Seattle, and cold. But the air is fresh and yes, actually invigorating, and you don’t mind; 45 in Seattle fits you like 60 in the Bay Area. At least, if you don’t have to sleep in it.
Downtown Seattle, where I’ve been trapped in a conference center for three days, is a massive cluster of tall glass boxes with national chain stores on the bottom floors. But many older buildings remain, and the clear clean light of a Seattle sunset makes even glass boxes look good.
There’s a Seattle “look,” downtown and everywhere. Cool. Streamlined. Arty; but only in a cool streamlined way. The people have it; many restaurants have it; some of the food has it.
I’m staying downtown at Sixth and Pike; Hordes of Prius cabs swarm around the hotels. Public art climbs the sides of buildings. Skybridges cross the streets 100 feet up.
The sidewalks gleam. Many of the pedestrians do, as wekk.
“How can it be so clean downtown?” I asked Rhumba over the phone. “San Francisco would be filthy. Where are the homeless people?”
She answered. “They’re keeping them away from the city center. They’re out there somewhere.”
Rhumba was correct. As you walk west toward Puget Sound, the homeless appear promptly at Third. It’s like crossing a line; no doubt there is an actual line of some sort, at least on the maps used by police and the chamber of commerce.
But it’s still — Seattle. Maybe more Seattle than the cleaner, corporate parts. Grizzled beggars bark into cell phones as if they were CEOs. An old man in a three-piece suit wears his “tech work wanted” sign on a sandwich board, along with his resume and his social media contacts. Good restaurants and expensive suits exist side-by-side with rags and multiple overcoats and angry wanderers. Here, a basement supermarket; there, the art museum.
Did I mention escalators? Seattle is mad for them. And basements. Especially if there are bar/restaurants in them. Or a supermarket.
And then you get to First Street, and Pike Place Market, and you’re among the tourists and food shoppers watching the fish-mongers throw halibut at each other. It’s a thing. Surprisingly, they catch them. Pike Place Market is a tourist spot but also a real public market; the price of admission is zip, the view is supreme, and the prices aren’t extreme.
Seattle is a great city, and while I usually at this point start snarking about the dark side behind the beauty of anything that I like, I say it again: Seattle is truly a great city, and I got around in it as much as I had time for. It’s beautiful — nature gets some of the credit — friendly, creative. They know how to live a good life in Seattle.
Hate to say it, but Seattle’s got more going than San Francisco. Both are way expensive to live in, but Seattle still manufactures its own culture. San Francisco has to send out.
A tidal wave of high-tech money hit Seattle 20-odd years ago and hasn’t yet subsided. And Seattle spent it well, on urban renewal and good transit and infrastructure and, yes, art. When a city has the money to put art everywhere — or mandate others to do so — that’s a rich city.
And when big money comes to a city, it changes that city. Seattle is changing: more expensive, more crowded, more exclusive, more global, a tad more affected, a tad less unique. Seattle has a huge reserve of unique to draw on, true, but it’s going to need all of it.
Because one thing I’ve noticed, at least downtown, is that free-spirited Seattle is a city of guards. As an out-of-town conventioneer, I saw guards wherever I was likely to go: there not just to ensure my safety, but to make sure that my “Seattle experience” wasn’t overwhelmed by some pesky real-world distraction like a homeless junkie.
I’m just back from the closing night festivities at the convention center. The theme was “Seattle and the 90s.” They had a 90’s grunge tribute band. There was free tarot and numerology; you could make your own dream-catcher, too, or play 90s-era video games while downing kobe beef sliders and gourmet mac and cheese topped with crab and bacon. And fresh sushi, of course.
They even set up a fish market stall, where authentic Seattle fishmongers tossed fish back and forth. It was the whole “Seattle experience” for the people who never had time to leave the convention center. And the convention guards were everywhere.
Good luck, Seattle, I’m leaving tomorrow and don’t plan to return. I truly hope that you staya great city, and not an “experience” like that city in California with the bridges and cable cars. It’ll be tough.